Remembering Joan Aiken

hermitage

The Hermitage, Petworth ~ Joan Aiken’s home ~

Joan Aiken died in the month of January. Listening for her voice I sometimes make surprising discoveries, in this case what appeared was a rough version of poem, never seen before and found in an old notebook.

This portrait of Joan’s last house was painted by the architect friend who helped her bring it back to life, when she and her painter husband discovered it lying ruined and abandoned on the edge of the little town where they lived.

It was supposed to be haunted, Joan had read a story about it in the local paper, when a couple walking their dog reported seeing a ghostly monk on the path below the house, and the newspaper took up the story with relish…!

The previous inhabitant, by then an old lady, had found sharing the house with the apparition too unsettling after the death of her husband, and so she herself became something of a local legend:

hermitagenews-clip

Sadly Joan Aiken never saw the ghost, although she bought the house partly because of its strange history – indeed it could be one of her own.  A friend recalled her saying she liked to eat cheese for supper in the hope of having a good nightmare to provide story material; as readers of her ghost stories will know she had a rich and wicked imagination…

I like to think something of her own history now haunts the house, perhaps a friendly presence that belies its quiet exterior, and that was why this poem seemed so apt. Here is a fragment of the unfinished poem, written many years earlier:

  “Swan among trees, the yew in its dark plumage

Raises its points against the glittering sky

Dropping a pool of shadow across the house

Shuttered and soulless since you are away.

Perhaps behind your shuttered features also

There lives a friend? This front gives rise to doubt

No inmate waves a hand at the blank windows

No footprints tell of passage in or out.”

Joan Aiken was often asked where she got her ideas.  Often, she would say, they came simply from life, or from newspaper articles, but it was always worth writing them down in a notebook because you never knew when they would find a home in a story. 

>>>>>*<<<<<

Read more about Joan Aiken’s strange stories here

And see a recent collection of some of her most memorable ~ The People in the Castle

Painting by Vernon Gibberd

 

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Happy Birthday Joan Aiken: 4 Sept. 1924

JA birth page

“Some of you may know a town called Rye. In that town is a narrow cobbled street…Mermaid Street, and an old haunted house built by an astrologer.”

So begins Joan Aiken’s A Jar of Cobblestones, a story about the mermaid of Rye (and the astrologer) from the new Virago collection “The Gift Giving” which includes many of her favourites, especially those she set in well loved places.

She wrote of her pleasure in re-reading these stories:

” I like to revisit them from time to time…like going back to stay in a house or piece of country that one has known since childhood…”

And one house in particular has appeared in many of her works – Jeake’s House, named after the astrologer Samuel Jeake who built it, and who invented a flying machine, and is said to have tried it out, off the high walls of the town of Rye, possibly carrying a rather unusual passenger…

“The machine crashed but he escaped.  Whether there was a mermaid on board I can’t say, but he did live in the house halfway down Mermaid Street. 

I know because I was born in it.”

gift giving

Now out from Virago Modern Classics

Illustrated by Peter Bailey

…and if you ever visit Rye and would like to stay in Jeake’s House yourself you can, but don’t worry about ghosts –

these days it is a very comfortable hotel!

 

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“The Apple of Trouble” an Armitage Family story

Read a taster of an aptly named story from ‘The Serial Garden’

by Joan Aiken at Virago

Apple

SerialApple1SerialApple2

….Mark is persuaded to make an exchange with the little man who makes off at top speed on the brand new bicycle – unfortunately this was a present from Great-Uncle Gavin who has come to look after Mark and his sister Harriet while Mr and Mrs Armitage take a much needed holiday…

Uncle Gavin nearly bursts a blood vessel when he hears… “Did what? Merciful providence – an apple?…Where is it?”

SerialApple3SerialApple4SerialApple5How are Mark and Harriet going to get rid of these Un-Friendly ladies before they avenge themselves on Great-uncle Gavin? Just one of the many adventures that befall Joan Aiken’s Armitage Family, usually on a Monday, but sometimes on other days too.. wonderfully illustrated by Peter Bailey

7 Page 175

Wonder how they do?

This and all the stories about the extraordinary Armitage family are in

The Serial Garden

Now published by Virago Modern Classics

Click to visit the website and see this and the US edition

read a complete story, plus Lizza’s introduction telling how Joan came to write these delightfully crazy  stories

*****

Want to play an Aiken guessing game?

Want to play an Aiken guessing game?

Q:Which story is this? …and there are over three hundred to choose from…….!

Of course it helps if you are in Japan where this beautiful new edition of A Touch of Chill has just come out.
A: The Rented Swan – who is of course really an enchanted ornithologist acting as a muse to the musician renting her apartment…..

The most recent new collection of Joan Aiken stories was The Monkey’s Wedding published by Small Beer Press, which included previously unpublished and uncollected stories.

Read more about this collection at The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken http://www.joanaiken.com/pages/monkeys_wedding.html

I am currently reading through her dozens of collections of fantasy stories in order to put together a new collection – do let me know if you have all time favourites?